The onshore EU wind energy industry long ago proved it was a reliable, local, affordable and non-polluting technology that can be counted on to help meet Europe’s increasing demand for power while reducing the ravages of global warming caused by fossil fuels. Nevertheless, the delivery of its electricity from source to consumer remains imperfect.
There are complex reasons for that, of course, and the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) has continually discussed how to improve the EU’s somewhat antiquated electrical grid through research papers, engineering studies and economic analysis.
Yes, the grid needs vast improvements, additions and even brand new lines to handle an expected large increase in electrical power from wind and other renewable energies if, as the European Commission projects, one-third of Europe’s power demand is to be met by renewables in just 12 years.
This is especially true of offshore wind which has the potential of providing even more immense amounts of electricity as long as there is some fair and transparent way of channelling it from an ocean-based wind farm, to the grid, to the consumer.
What EWEA finds frustrating is that many legislators, government officials and journalists seem to mistakenly believe that wind power faces greater grid-integration issues than other forms of electrical generation such as nuclear power or inflexible coal-fired power.
While wind power is different than from other power technologies, and integrating large amounts of it into the existing power system is a challenge, the universally basic power-supply principles of balancing, backing up, aggregation and forecasting still apply.
In addition, it is important to remember that the challenge of supplying one-third of Europe’s power demand with renewables by 2020 is not any greater or more costly than the one system operators faced when politicians thought that nuclear was the answer and expanded its share to meet 30% of European demand in two decades.
The EU already has skilled transmission system operators who know how to simultaneously service close to 500 million fickle customers with unpredictable behaviour every second of every hour of every day. Those same operators are also continually gaining valuable experience regarding the management of over 30% wind power shares for long periods of time. In Denmark, 140% is sometimes managed.
EWEA is hoping that policy makers focusing on the liberalisation package of the EU internal market understand that one of the remaining challenges is to change and improve the grid so that wind power can provide larger amounts of electricity while helping Europe pursue a greener future.
13 October 2008